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Posted at 4:57 PM ET, 03/ 9/2011

All things defunded

By Charles Lane

I once attended a birthday party for someone I know who has hundreds of friends -- and an operatic personality that frequently tests their loyalty. One guest began his toast to the honoree, "I love him, even though I know what he's like."

That pretty much sums up my feelings about public broadcasting, especially NPR. I love NPR news, even with its occasional flights into cultural esoterica and political correctness. It's worth it for the comprehensive coverage of serious issues and international events -- the kind of stuff the rest of the media has more or less abandoned. If you don't believe me, listen to Melissa Block's stirring reportage on the 2008 earthquake in China. Nobody does it better.

It is precisely because I love NPR that I think the time has come to end federal funding for the radio network and other public broadcasting. Radio and TV broadcasting is not a high national priority in an age of multiple media options and fiscal difficulty, so I believed NPR's subsidy was expendable even before fundraiser Ron Schiller revealed himself to be a biased blowhard on hidden camera. The irony was almost too much to bear: Here's a guy expounding on the stupidity of America's "uneducated" masses even though he lacked the wit to do a basic background check before breaking bread with a couple of purported Middle Eastern donors.

Still, those of us who believe that federal funding undermines NPR's independence owe Schiller a debt of gratitude for admitting that NPR "would be better off in the long run without federal funding." This was totally off-message --and true.

Many local NPR stations would wither and die without federal help, but the news network itself and its major-city affiliates could probably survive on corporate sponsorship, foundation grants and "the support of listeners like you." Indeed, as Jeff Jarvis explains, the stations have become a bit of an economic millstone around NPR's neck anyway, now that NPR can reach the world via the Internet.

Meanwhile, here's the upside: NPR without federal funding could provide news and commentary as it -- not Congress -- sees fit, accountable only to its audience and private-sector funders. To be sure, the network, unencumbered by the need to pay at least lip service to the concerns of Capitol Hill conservatives, might gravitate, in style and substance, toward the ideological preferences of its (mostly, but not exclusively) liberal listener base.

But even after the Schiller debacle, and the Juan Williams fiasco, I have enough respect for the institution and its professionalism to think otherwise -- that NPR would use financial independence to strengthen its brand as a serious news organization with a liberal accent, not a left-wing bias. Fragmented and polarized as the media market may be, there would still be an audience for what NPR, at its best, offers.

It's time to end NPR's career as a political football. I love NPR, and, as the saying goes, if you love something, set it free.

By Charles Lane  | March 9, 2011; 4:57 PM ET
Categories:  Lane  | Tags:  Charles Lane  
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Comments

Be realistic. I listen to NPR on the way to and from work, every day. I love it, but it is insane to subsidize it for a very niche, affluent market.

I think we have to start prioritizing based on the greatest good for the greatest number. NPR/PBS doesn't meet that test.

The money needs to be shifted to more important programs that actually materially help lots of citizens.

Posted by: katorga | March 9, 2011 3:50 PM | Report abuse

If we end funding for NPR, there will be no answer, no tonic for the poison of right wing radio which basically rules the airwaves now.

Posted by: easysoul | March 9, 2011 4:00 PM | Report abuse

Yes, we must be realistic. NPR is a great service overall, but it's time for it to sink or swim on it's own. Even it means losing Click and Clack. It certainly is a worthwhile market for commercial support (hell, look at the money they poor into Fox and talk radio). Think of all the cereal they would sell by advertising during Sesame Street.

Posted by: jckdoors | March 9, 2011 4:02 PM | Report abuse

I don't have a problem with taking away NPR's public funding, as long as we take away ALL broadcasters' free lunches. The airwaves belong to the public and should be sold or rented through public auction. Why should Faux News get a free ride on the public dole?

Posted by: BuddyK | March 9, 2011 5:52 PM | Report abuse

NPR could exist without the gov't funding, it just needs time to market it's programming. Say yes to the Muppets but get a larger share of the marketing proceeds. An IPO would give it a start.

Posted by: jameschirico | March 9, 2011 6:47 PM | Report abuse

So,by this logic, NPR would become the same as every other media outlet in this country. It would have to scrape for corporation donations which will only lead to more advertising and more pressure from advertisers to promote their side of an issue. Govenment funding is public funding.

Posted by: mikel7 | March 9, 2011 7:03 PM | Report abuse

You know who would probably agree with that toast? The brave Gabrielle Giffords if she could speak normally.

Posted by: fakedude2 | March 9, 2011 9:45 PM | Report abuse

Amen, Mr. Lane! Defund it, and as Ron Schiller admitted, public broadcasting will thrive as never before.

Merely firing 3 executives won't change the decades-long, deep-rooted culture of elitist leftism. Why pretend to change your spots? Embrace your ideology and be proud of it as a privately funded non-profit!

A freely-funded NPR/PBS will be free to speak to their elitist base without needing to pretend there is some balance. Nobody will care if they support radical causes or call regular (non-elitist) Americans childish names.

A year later, PBS and NPR afficionados will see the difference and wish it were defunded years ago.

George Soros, Michael Moore, and all the Lefties in Hollywood will kick in their cash and host fundraisers, so no stations will go dark.

Defunding IS liberation. Try it, you'll like it!

Posted by: webmaster12 | March 9, 2011 11:23 PM | Report abuse

It's not about money , it's political , as is the union busting in Wisconsin . The Republican / right wing hate , fear and want to eliminate anything and anyone they cannot own and control . End funding for NPR ? OK , how about ending funding and subsidies for NASCAR and NASCAR track owners ? If you are paying any attention you know that the Republicans are now fighting a Democratic motion to do just that ! Yes that's right , we are subsidizing and funding NSACAR and the good old boys ... NASCAR track owners . Your tax dollars at work , courtesy of the fiscally responsible Republican party ! LOL

Posted by: Koom | March 9, 2011 11:55 PM | Report abuse

What would Gabby Giffords say if she could speak normally?

Posted by: tjtucker | March 10, 2011 1:32 AM | Report abuse

Defund Charles Lane.

Posted by: misterjrthed | March 10, 2011 5:24 AM | Report abuse

do not just defund NPR remove its TAX FREE STATUS !!!

even the car talk guys on it are left wing crazies ..

"George Bush is a [unprintable vulgarity]," Tom Magliozzi says, about three minutes into the interview.


link here http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/03/AR2005050301694.html

and here is the democraticunderground supporting the slam on president GW Bush

link http://www.democraticunderground.com/discuss/duboard.php?az=view_all&address=105x3181485

contact your elected rep DEFUND NPR !!

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml
WP

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Posted by: robof4 | March 10, 2011 7:31 AM | Report abuse

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